Film and TV

Reality Bites: Kate Plus 8

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

After all the tabloid unpleasantness surrounding serial breeders Jon and Kate Gosselin, they did an admirable job dropping out of the public eye. True, the first season of Kate Plus 8 (no longer with the Jon & in the title), which included appearances by Jon even as the two were going through divorce proceedings, aired in 2009, and a second season ended in 2011, but we've seen next to nothing since then.

And because all of this took place well before the debut of "Reality Bites," I naturally figured I'd dodged a bullet.

Unfortunately, my luck began to run out in 2014 when a handful of K+8 specials aired, and sure enough, my shrine to Lakshmi went into the dumpster when Season Three was announced. True. time has softened my perceptions of mom Kate somewhat (and of everything else, 2011 was four years and several hundred bottles of gin ago), so when I saw Kate Plus 8 was about to kick off again, I said, "It can't be any worse than Eaten Alive, right?"

By the way, if you can avoid it, don't bother going down the rabbit hole of what happened to Jon after the divorce. Simply put, it involves infidelity, Donald Trump, and a tabloid reporter who is now carrying Michael Lohan's child. If my brief foray into that morass of trailer trash and psychosis spares you 30 minutes of your lives, I've done my good deed for the day.

The debut episode (and also The Episode I Watched), "New England Adventures," was -- much like every other episode of this show -- both nightmarish and aggravating. The former applies to those of you with kids, because it dares to depict that most horrific of existential traumas: the family vacation. The latter, on the other hand, because most if not all of the trauma involved results from Kate's reliable inability to remove herself as the center of attention.

"The little ones are coming home," she announces at the beginning. Give us some context, friendo; have they been staying with dad? Away at military school? Locked in the Punishment Cellar under the barn? Is this an occasion for celebration or dread? Frankly, I can see arguments for either position.

And for whatever reason, she seems more agitated at the thought of abandoning her pet parakeet for a week then shepherding eight kids on an interstate voyage. Mother with ice water flowing through her veins or inhuman sociopath? Stay tuned.

I mean, yeah: packing eight kids up for vacation is a pain in the ass (especially for a mom with an affinity for dressing her kids in jorts). Hell, packing for *two* kids is a pain in the ass. The thing is, and this immutable fact holds true throughout the show's entire torturous run, Kate is constantly galled at the inconvenience of raising eight children that she enthusiastically obtained fertility treatments in order to have.

Don't forget, the Gosselins already had twins (that also required medical assistance to conceive). You take your chances when you roll the pregnancy dice (don't I know it), but fertility drugs stack those odds in favor of multiples, which is exactly what happened. The rest is the stuff of reality show legend, as is the family's well-funded lifestyle.

For example, flying with eight children is certainly one of Dante's innermost circles of Hell, but the flames are a little more tolerable when you're flying first class (and Philadelphia to Boston is, what, an hour)? They also bypass the car rental counter for a waiting van, and enjoy various attractions like Plymouth's Pilgrim Experience and some zipline thing all by themselves. Vacations are so much less stressful when everybody else in the world decides to stay home, don't you think?

Mercifully(?), the kids are now finally old enough to speak on their own at some length, thereby (temporarily) taking the focus away from Kate. They may not say anything unexpected (the girls think boys are yucky, the 14-year olds are aghast at the lack of wifi at the vacation house), but new perspectives never hurt.

[Speaking of that, I'd rather see a show focused on all the people forced to attend/serve the family. I assume they'd have some funny things to say, but non-disclosure agreements mean I'm forced to imagine Kate flogging her personal chef for not adequately peeling her grapes.]

Did I mention the vacation house? It should come as no surprise Kate managed to secure a massive 4,000 square foot palace for the family's little excursion. Then again, this is Maine we're talking about, so she probably wrangled a two-week stay for 30 beaver pelts and a bottle of Dr. Whiffenbeagle's Miracle Elixir.

The real hilarity begins when they get to the "beach" and find it too cold to swim (welcome to sunny Waldo County!) and full of crabs, which terrify Kate to an admittedly hilarious extent. But watching kids paints or haul produce in authentic pilgrim garb while their mom makes faces and passive-aggressively mocks them is as entertaining as you can imagine. Slightly more enjoyable is watching Kate wrestle with her fear of crustaceans, heights, or the thought of a single minute without her saying something.

The kids, who have been reality stars their entire lives, appear mostly well-adjusted. They at least complain about predictable things (who gets the top bunk? Why are we always wearing jorts?), but that probably won't last forever, and the best (only?) reason for continuing to watch Kate Plus 8 is for the prospect of the kids rising en masse against their mother and hurling her into the sea like the Vikings of old.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar